The question without an answer
|In this darkness, I could see no shapes. This was a night without stars and a blackness without a hint of light. It seemed to penetrate into my soul and was a heaviness that crushed me from within as well as without. Then I heard a voice and it sounded familiar. |
"David is that you? Where are we, what is this place?" I heard David shuffling in the darkness as if orientating himself to the sound of my voice.
"Mark! Wow, it is good to hear another human voice. I have no idea where we are. It is like I just woke up inside a bad dream."
I remembered being in the warzone. There was that explosion...
"Wait, it was so close... are we dead?"
"We were standing right next to it. So what is this?... Hell? I thought you went to church and were a good boy, what are you doing here?" David sniggered as if laughing at a private joke. His laughter annoyed me.
"Maybe it isn't Hell."
Now I could make out a shape, a hint of grey that gave an outline. Something was moving on the other side of me from David.
"Who's there?!" My hand reached for my Glock 17, which was always by my side, but it was not there. Maybe I had dropped it somewhere.
"Pipe down soldier, and start asking the right questions why don't you." The voice sounded like the Captain. He had been on the hill with us when the shell had hit. The voice was authoritative and it restored a sense of purpose to my appraisal of the situation.
"Captain, good to hear you with us, sir. What do you think is going on?" I could hear David breathing next to me but apart from that, there was silence as we waited for his response.
"It's dark, but I can see shapes so there must be a light somewhere. If we can hear each other and distinguish grey from black then we cannot be dead yet. I don't have any of the weapons I was carrying when the explosion happened. Bugger... " The authoritative voice had broken as if shattered by an unnamed memory. The Captain started to cry. Neither David nor I spoke but I could feel his awkwardness because I had it too. The Captain never cried. This was all very strange, what was going on?
"I killed a kid...," sobbed the Captain in a weak and barely audible tone, "He was wearing cammies and I thought he was a soldier. I thought he was a Russian. I was so full of hate that my hands were shaking. I just emptied the magazine into him...blew away half the wall behind him also...then I looked... he had no weapon...he was still alive...looking up at me...and then he wasn't...he was just a boy in a soldier's outfit."
The light was growing now and I could see where it was coming from. There was a door in the distance and it was cracked open. Rising to my feet I could make out David beside me moving also. He seemed, like me, to have decided the door offered a better hope of answers than the emotional wreck that had been our Captain.
"Let's get that door open then maybe we can see a little better. " I said to the silver shape beside me.
David grunted a yes and we started moving. We had walked only a couple of feet when he yelped and fell. He had stumbled over something in the dim light. I turned around to help him.
"Are you OK?" I turned towards the silver-gray shape behind me.
"It's Sarah, I should never have left her, with the kids. I cannot leave her, I am going to wait for her to wake up."
"What if she does not wake up?" This all seemed quite strange, why would Sarah be here in this place with David? I wondered.
"I have to stay with her, I should never have left her in the first place. It was stupid of me," David replied. His shape was hunched over a dimly lit shape that could have been a body.
"How do you know it is Sarah? It is too dark to see properly."
No answer. I inwardly shrugged. The Captain was still weeping, David was singing something like a lullaby and both were ignoring me. I turned towards the door. Carefully inching forward through the blackness I just knew that the answers to all my questions were behind that door.
Finally, I made it to the heavy-looking, oaken structure and pulled on it. The hinges squeaked as I pulled but the door moved and the light grew. Beyond the door, I could see a hospital ward, and my wife Susie was seated beside a bed. I could smell the sanitary cleaner smells of a hospital, I realized that the darkness behind me had had no smell at all. Looking across the ward I recognized myself in a bed. There also was David and the Captain, in the same ward, in beds opposite and beside my own. We were all covered in bandages and the Captain's leg was in plaster and in the air. There was no one at the bedside of my colleagues.
"Guys it is a hospital and we are in there." I turned back, but the Captain was huddled in a corner, a deep shadow over his face and he was still crying. David was stroking a pile of rocks on the ground but seemed equally blind to what was going on.
"Guys, can't you see?! David! That is not Sarah, it is just a pile of rocks..." They both ignored me and so I turned back to the hospital ward and stepped forward. There was a flash of light as I entered and I felt afloat on the very air in the room. There was a sort of suction coming from my body on the bed and I was irresistibly drawn towards it and then back into it. Having entered I was just lying there. It took a moment as if I was slipping into a suit of some sort. I tried moving my hands and they worked, then a leg, and then I opened my eyes.
My wife Susie was smiling down at me and there were tears in her eyes. She held my hand gently like I would break if she gripped it too hard. I wondered how badly injured I was but there was only love in Sarah's eyes and I realized it did not matter compared to that. What mattered most was that I was back with her.
"Welcome back Mark," she said. We were interrupted by a cacophony of beeps and alarms behind her. We turned to look over at David and the Captain. The machines by their beds were the source of the noise and the graphs on the console screens were all flatlining. Nurses and doctors rushed into the room with concerned looks in their eyes, their faces obscured by those blue surgical masks. While Sarah was still watching them I turned back towards the door through which I had entered, realizing my friends had not made it back yet into the ward. They were still trapped in the darkness behind the door. I looked for the door but it was not there.
"Oh no." My friends were not going to make it. Despite the joy of seeing my wife again, I dreaded whatever fate had befallen my comrades in arms, behind the door.
My wife turned back to me, her face a mix of relief, that it was not my machine that was beeping. She also wore a look of concern as she looked at me. It was as if she was feeling the first tremors of my subterranean turmoil along with me.
"My friends are still in the darkness, why couldn't they climb out too?" I asked her. She did not answer but seemed to understand. The tears in her green eyes grew and then ran down her face as she watched me. It hurt me more deeply than my wounds to see the pain inside me revealed in the mirror of her beautiful face. "Oh God, why just me?"
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